Ice, Rock and Butterflies

Day 2 – Diavolezza

Today was not the same as the last, it was still chilly in the morning but the cloud was very high and thin, soon to be dissipated by the blistering sun above them. We all met at the train station just alongside the hostel and made our way onboard to our first stop of the day, the Diavolezza cable car. The view from the cable car on the ride to the top was impressive, the size of the valleys became more clear with every meter up. The power of the glaciers that had carved them even more so, each valley was perfectly u-shaped, with a small ribbon stream meandering its way along the bottom. We passed a corrie on one side with a small half frozen tarn before reaching the top.

We walked over to the viewing platform and the only cloud was below us now, shifting uneasily in the heat. Being slowly unblanketed was the Morteratch Glacier, and surrounding it some of the tallest mountains in the alps like Piz Bernina.

It was interesting to see that on one side of the mountain they had covered the glacial ice with a white sheet in order to protect it from the sun. One of the tactics employed to try and save the glacier from climate change. We stood on the platform long enough to see the cloud undulate down the valley and the glacier laid uncovered beneath us, the crevasses looked stretched open as if they would recoil if the front of the ice flow wasn’t there.

After walking around the summit we identified some quite special little alpine plants, many of which were very old, due to their long life history. The environment is so harsh and dry that they all grow very small but live for very long time! We packed back into a cable car however, and went back down the mountain, onto the next destination.

The next stop was the same

place, but from the bottom.

The train station further back along the valley is actually quite close to where the glacier snout ended in the 1850’s. Our walk to the glaciers front followed the path of succession, the plants and animals changing with every step closer to the ice. This was actually my first sighting of some redpolls, although I didn't get a picture, it was certainly nice to watch them flitting about between the tips of the trees.

As well, as diverse bird life, the valley was home to a whole host of insects and other smaller organisms, like a painted lady butterfly and some wasps in the cracks of the erratics left by the glacier. The plant life grew younger and more specialist, ending with pioneer plants amongst the rocks like alpine willowherb.

It was a stark realisation though, to have also been following the retreat of the glacier. Needless to say it was accelerating and we had expected that but, to see it really did make it all the more real. Even though it looked a little smaller after having walked its path from long ago, it was still immense and I’m very grateful to have seen it. The chances are it will be a lot smaller, if there at all in the future.

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